CITATION: UOI V. Association for Democratic Reforms  AIR 2112; 2002 (3) SCR 294
PETITIONER: UNION OF INDIA & ORS.
RESPONDENT: ASSOCIATION FOR DEMOCRATIC REFORMS & ANR
BENCH: M.B. SHAH, BISHESHWAR PRASAD SINGH & H.K. SEMA
DATE OF JUDGEMENT: May 2, 2002
In this case, the Association for Democratic Reforms petitioned the Delhi High Court to compel authorities to execute certain suggestions aimed at improving the electoral process' transparency, fairness, and equity. The Law Commission had provided recommendations to the government that required the Election Commission to make it mandatory for candidates to release personal background information such as criminal history, financial details, qualifications, and information that could be used to assess a candidate's capacity.
The Supreme Court was asked if the Election Commission had the authority to issue directives as instructed by the High Court, and whether a citizen has the right to obtain pertinent information about potential candidates. In the absence of proper legislation, the Supreme Court concluded that the High Court has ample competence under Article 32 read with Articles 141 and 142 of the Indian Constitution to provide required directions to the executive to promote the public interest. Vineet Narain and Others Vs. Union of India and Others was cited by the Supreme Court (1998, SCC 226).
In this case involving the criminalization of politics, the Supreme Court of India ruled that electors had a fundamental right to know the antecedents of candidates running for public office under the Indian Constitution. The right to be informed was interpreted by the court as a right arising from freedom of speech and expression.
In Writ Petition No.7257 of 1999, the Petitioner-Association for Democratic Reforms asked the High Court of Delhi for directions to adopt the Law Commission's 170th Report's recommendations and make required amendments under Rule 4 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. It was pointed out that the Law Commission of India had undertaken a comprehensive study of the measures required to expedite hearing of election petitions and to conduct a thorough review of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, at the request of the Government of India, in order to make the electoral process more fair, transparent, and equitable.
However, the Court considered whether an elector, a citizen of the country, has a fundamental right to receive information about a candidate for the Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly's criminal activities in order to assess for himself whether the person contesting the election has a background that makes him worthy of his vote, by peering into the candidate's past. The High Court found, after considering the relevant arguments and reports, as well as the opinion of the Election Commission, that it is essential to know the candidate's past in order to make an informed decision, as it is not in the interest of democracy and the wellbeing of the people to keep them in dark.
The Union of India had filed an appeal to overturn the order.
1. Whether a voter has the right to know the public functionaries and candidates for office which includes their educational background, assets and criminal background?
2. Whether Election Commission is empowered to issue directions as ordered by the High Court?
The Court established two main rulings:
(1) When the legislature is silent on a subject and an entity (in this case, the Election Commi ssion) has been given implementation authority over that subject, the Court assumes that the entity has the power to issue directions or orders to fill the void until a suitable law o n the subject is enacted; and
(2) Citizens have a right to know about public functionaries, which is derived from the concept of freedom.
Regarding the first ruling, the Court confirmed that Article 324 "operates in regions not occupied by legislation" and that "a statute's silence has no exclusionary effect unless it comes from required inference." In other words, the Court's authority to issue orders under Article 324 is unrestricted. As a result, the Electoral Commission can give appropriate orders to safeguard the purity and integrity of the "entire election process," as required by the Court.
The Court described the right to know as a fundamental derived from the right to freedom of speech and expression in the second judgement. Because such rights include the freedom to have opinions and collect information in order to be sufficiently educated in formulating and distributing those opinions throughout the election process, the public has a right to know about candidates contesting elections. The Court elaborated on this argument by stating that a good democracy strives for a "knowing citizenry," and that any kind of misinformation or lack of information will result in a "uniformed citizenry," rendering democracy a charade.
Following the Union of India's Supreme Court appeal, the Election Commission was instructed to issue appropriate instructions requiring all candidates to provide information on the following areas of their background:
• Convictions and criminal charges
• Currently pending lawsuits in which the candidate is a defendant
• All assets, including those of her spouse, as well as all obligations including
• Qualification in education
The Court further said, citing Section 8(1) (j), that any information that would not be refused to the Parliament or the State Legislature should not be denied to anyone.
The Election Commission was ordered to get affidavits from candidates detailing any past or pending criminal accusations or prosecutions against them. This contained information on whether the candidate had ever been convicted, acquitted, or dismissed of a criminal offence. Furthermore, if convicted, the severity of the sentence; and whether the candidate was charged with a crime punishable by a minimum of two years in jail prior to filing the nomination.
The Representation of People (Third Amendment) Act of 2002 was passed by Parliament. In addition to significantly weakening the ADR Case's disclosure obligations, the Act enacted S.33-B, which said that the only disclosures necessary will be those imposed by the Act, regardless of any court judgement or decree. This was one of the earliest instances of judiciallegislative dispute in the context of transparency reforms.
Petitioners of the case Union for Civil Liberties filed a writ petition under Article 32 challenging the constitutionality of the Representation of People Act (Amendment) Ordinance, 2002.
This article is written by Siddita Singh Rathore of Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.